Generations of New Orleanians have celebrated Thanksgiving Day at the Fair Grounds. Decked out in fine clothes and hats, people partake of the dining room dinner or Thanksgiving buffet, have a few Bloody Marys and cheer on the horses. Also important: strolling around the Grandstand, visiting with neighbors and admiring their costuming choices.
Horse racing on the site of the current Fair Grounds started in 1852, although the name “Fair Grounds” wasn’t used until a few years later. Whatever the name, the site of the Fair Grounds has the distinction of being the oldest site in America that has been used continuously for horse racing. It has had its share of trials and tribulations over the years, including devastating grandstand fires in 1919 and ’93, and almost being developed into a housing subdivision in the ’40s. And of course, it was inundated with floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina.
But like New Orleans itself, the Fair Grounds is resilient. Thanksgiving Day crowds usually average about 7,000 people but the first post-Katrina opening day on Thanksgiving of 2006 drew a record crowd of 8,732.
This year, that tradition will be a little different. For the first time in 30 years, opening day will happen before Thanksgiving. The first races of the 2008-’09 season will occur on November 14 (the earliest start date on record). But there will still be Thanksgiving Day races at the Fair Grounds, so you can enjoy your traditional day of food, family, friends and finery at the track.